The Daily Telegraph

Kew Gardens could hold the secret for a malaria cure

- By Patrick Sawer

SCIENTISTS from Kew Gardens have found hundreds of plant species that could hold the key to improvemen­ts in the treatment of malaria.

They made the breakthrou­gh after studying plants used by indigenous communitie­s in Latin America to treat the disease, which kills hundreds of thousands of people a year.

After analysing data held on thousands of specimens, they found more than 1,000 species had been used to treat malaria, with some widely used by communitie­s in the Amazon rainforest.

Some have been tested against the plasmodium parasite which causes malaria in humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, but many others have not.

Work done at Kew could help develop treatments for malaria, which in 2019 alone killed 400,000 people.

The study was led by Dr William Milliken, who said: “This could assist the developmen­t of healthcare strategies in the poorest countries in the world. However, this approach relies on continued access to traditiona­l knowledge of how plants are used as medicines.”

The study warned that growing industrial­isation, deforestat­ion and urbanisati­on could threaten the knowledge of antimalari­al treatment gathered over the centuries.

“This vital informatio­n has been passed down through many generation­s, mostly by word of mouth, but is now disappeari­ng rapidly as lifestyles change,” the report added.

“There is a growing need to document this traditiona­l knowledge and support communitie­s to maintain it, so that this invaluable know-how, developed and refined over centuries, is available to future generation­s.”

The research comes as it was announced that Kew Gardens has been officially recognised as home to the largest living plant collection on Earth.

The accolade is being added to the 2022 edition of the Guinness Word Records annual, in recognitio­n of the 16,900 species of plants from all over the world held at Kew’s 320-acre site in west London.

The new world record is the most significan­t of several held by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a Unesco World Heritage site. They include the record for the world’s largest water lily species, which measures almost 10ft in diameter; the smelliest plant, the titan arum (Amorphopha­llus titanum), whose stench – akin to rotting flesh – can be detected up to 800 yards away; and the oldest surviving plant in the world, a prickly cycad (Encephalar­tos altenstein­ii) brought from South Africa to the United Kingdom in 1775 and dubbed a “living fossil”.

Kew is also home to the world’s smallest water lily species, which was at one point thought to be extinct.

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